Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
July 9, 2020

Crazy Rich Asians: the most successful rom-com in six years

By AMELIA ISAACS | September 6, 2018


 Casi Moss/ CC BY-SA 2.0

Crazy Rich Asians showcases many of Hollywood’s great talents, with Awkwafina shining in a comedic role.

No one could say for even a moment that Crazy Rich Asians does not deliver on its title, despite our Uber driver telling me at length about how all he could think of was Crazy, Stupid, Love. when he heard the name of the movie we were on our way to see (which hadn’t crossed my mind until that moment). 

The title really does quite neatly encapsulate an important aspect of the film: The overwhelming majority of characters have more than enough money to be labeled as “crazy rich” and show it off in the most elaborate and wonderfully ridiculous ways. 

The title, beyond drawing our attention immediately to a crucial aspect of the film, almost jokingly acknowledges, quite boldly, that it is taking on the role of showing that diversity in the media means diversity of an entire range of both ethnicities and experiences. 

Whilst there have been an increasing number of films being made with largely black casts, Crazy Rich Asians makes the statement that everybody needs to be included when it comes to having a diverse, and realistic, portrayal of people in film. 

That’s not to undermine the importance of any other film in any way. Movies like Black Panther, Girls Trip, and Straight Outta Compton are extremely important, and we need to see even more movies that aren’t predominantly focused on casts of straight, white, cis males. 

Crazy Rich Asians is simply highlighting another section of people in society that needs better representation, a section that hasn’t seen itself represented in the media in this way for over 25 years. 

Wayne Wang’s The Joy Luck Club, released in 1993, was the first Asian American-fronted film from a major studio, and its release marked a huge moment for Asian Americans in cinema. 

While there’s a poetic symmetry to the coincidental release of Crazy Rich Asians 25 years after The Joy Luck Club, it is frankly saddening and crazy that it took a quarter of a century for there to be a second movie with an all-Asian cast. 

In an interview with Deadline, Ming-Na Wen (who starred in The Joy Luck Club and voiced Mulan in Disney’s 1998 animated film) reflected on the significance of Asian American representation in cinema, referencing Disney’s forthcoming live-action Mulan, which includes an all-Asian cast, as a step in the right direction.

“We already know for sure that it’s not gonna take another 25 years for this to happen again. So, that’s kind of nice,” Wen said.  

Jon M. Chu, the director of Crazy Rich Asians, definitely has a self-awareness about this though.  

“We can sugarcoat it all we want, but the moment you bring up an Asian-led movie, there’s one example to point to, and that’ll be us. To be on the biggest stage with the biggest stakes, that’s what we asked for,” Chu said in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter

While the film is, first and foremost, a romantic comedy up there with the best of them, it’s also having a dramatic impact on not only the Asian-American community and (hopefully!) on Hollywood at large. 

There is not only undoubtedly a stereotype when it comes to Asians being cast in films, but there is an overwhelming amount of “whitewashing” (casting white actors as non-white characters) that occurs as well. While it may seem like a lot of pressure to metaphorically put on the shoulders of just one movie (and to literally put on the cast and crew), it does so with seeming ease. 

At the same time, however, it does not take itself too seriously. 

The film is hilarious — it made me laugh, it made me cry and it made me cry from laughing. There are subtleties that are so clever and poignant, but there are also moments of just pure, intense hilarity.

Surrounded by a huge (and star studded) cast, we find Constance Wu (star of Fresh Off the Boat) and Hollywood newcomer Henry Golding, playing Rachel Chu and Nick Young — a young, beautiful couple that live in New York City and are both professors at New York University. 

The story follows Rachel as she travels to Singapore with her boyfriend to go to his best friend’s wedding. While Rachel knows that most of Nick’s family lives in Singapore, there is one large secret that he is hidden from her: His family is crazy rich. As in, they own most of Singapore kind of rich. As in, he’s the “Prince Harry of Asia” kind of rich. 

Rachel shines in the movie as a strong woman who, despite being thrown out of her comfort zone, quickly adapts and thrives in the environment of Nick’s disapproving family.

Rachel revels in the sheer opulence of the characters’ ridiculous and extravagant wealth — from the (slightly confusing) moment where the bride literally walked through water down the aisle to the intensely beautiful house that the Young family lives in. 

None of this detracts, however, from the way in which the many characters develop throughout the film, and the way in which their story lines are expertly weaved together. It would be easy to rely on the extravagance and grandness of the costumes and the setting and to let that carry the entire film, but Chu resolutely does not. 

What we see instead though is a fully-fledged and developed supporting cast that is full of in-depth and brilliant characters. 

Whilst Gemma Chan is particularly wonderful playing the millionaire with a huge heart and an insecure husband (from whom she hides her designer shoes, handbags and $1.2 million earrings — casual), the standout star (besides the two main stars, of course) is, without a doubt, rapper and stand-up comedian Awkwafina. 

Taking on the role of Rachel’s best friend Goh Peik Lin, Awkwafina embodies the sassy, over the top, Joan Rivers-esque 20-something year old who steps in to act as a wonderful guide to the world that both Rachel and the audience are equally lost in, with a set of impeccable one-liners and an overflowing wardrobe to boot. 

While the film is fantastical and extravagant, and I love it for that, it also draws a lot of real-world points to its forefront and, I hope, has set the ball rolling for a discussion that will continue to develop. 

The movie’s sequel is already in the works, and it really can’t come soon enough. 

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